It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?


I spent the week before school acquiring a selection of books from my favourite used book store to add some more variety to my classroom library. These books were not on my to-read list, but they will hopefully be enjoyed by the students once they are placed in my classroom library. If you are web surfing and looking for other reading lists, check out the It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? link.


Operation Yes, by Sara Lewis Holmes

Living and going to school on an air force base has disadvantages for Bo, the son of the air force colonel. It also does not appeal to Bo’s cousin Gari, who was forced to live on base after her mom becomes a nurse in Iraq. But when their kind teacher, Miss Loupe, is given some terrible news, her students unite to try and solve her troubles. This book had heart, and showed some realistic character development. It was an enjoyable read.


50 Things You Should Know About The Second World War, by Simon Adams

Starting from the rise of Hitler, and ending with the postwar world, this book provides an extensive timeline of World War II. It did not provide any new pieces of information for me, but its small, digestible, and easy to read facts would be an interest to several students.


Who Was King Tut?, by Roberta Edwards

This book allows its reader to learn about King Tut’s biography, as well as the world of Ancient Egypt. It gave me some small pieces of information I did not already know, and I’m looking forward to using this resource in our class’ Ancient Egypt unit.


Extreme History, by Stewart Ross

In the same spirit as the Horrible Histories series, this book gives brief facts about the crazy and weird parts of history. I’m hoping it will be a good addition to the classroom library for my reluctant readers.


Lizards in the Sky: Animals Where You Least Expect Them, by Claire Eamer

I enjoyed reading about the unique environments of various animals around the world, and learned several new interesting facts. I would recommend this book for the budding scientists or collectors of curious facts in the classroom.


Speechless, by Jennifer Mook-Sang

Joseph “Jelly” Miles really wants to show up Victoria, the class pet and perfectionist, at the public speaking competition. Winning a brand new tablet won’t be too bad either. But with his struggle for finding the right speech topic, as well as his own computer and relationship troubles, it may be difficult to show everyone his true self. This book was a quick read, and I found the characters rather formulaic. However, I can see how students would enjoy the events in the story and would cheer for the main character.

I send good wishes to all teachers, administration, and students heading back to school tomorrow. Have a great first day back!


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


It’s back to school for 2014! This January I decided to implement a pod challenge, where my two classes (including the teachers) will work together to read 200 books. The students will start the challenge tomorrow, but the teachers started the challenge  over the Winter Break, where there would be more time for us to read. Because it’s the first week back, I don’t really have time to give a review of each book, but here’s what I read this past week, plus my reading plans for next week. I think you can see that this week I tried to finish a few books for my Newbery challenge.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse

Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard Atwater

Knee-Knock Rise, by Natalie Babbitt

Twenty and Ten, by Claire Huchet Bishop


After seeing how woefully sparse the poetry bin is in my classroom library, I have decided that along with some chapter books some poetry reading might be in order:

So Cool, by Dennis Lee

Custard and Company, by Ogden Nash

The Summer of the Swans, by Betsy Byars

Fly Boy, by Eric Walters

I will let you know how our pod is progressing next week. Wish us luck!

Graphic Novels in the Classroom


I have been reading graphic novels for a while.  I believe my first experience with this genre was with Classics Illustrated, which was also my first introduction to Alice in Wonderland and Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.  In university, the Great Expectations graphic novel saved me when I slightly misjudged the time I had to read the actual novel before a group discussion in my English class.  Today, I pick up Scott Pilgrim to read in the same way others might pick up a Nora Roberts novel.  I know that some teachers are reluctant to introduce graphic novels in the classroom, as they are not often considered “true” novels.  However, from my own experiences, there are some advantages to encouraging graphic novels in the classroom:

1.) Graphic novels provide motivation for reading.  They are often published as a series, so when students find a story that interests them they have different plots to explore.  They are also accessible to many students.  Struggling readers, unmotivated readers, and avid readers alike will find them a quicker read filled with plot and action.  Finally, a lot of graphic novels deal with themes and genres that are popular to younger readers, including fantasy, science fiction, and realistic fiction.

2.) Graphic novels teach plot, character, and connections.  As any teacher who has marked student created comic strips can attest, it can be really hard to take a story and turn it into a book where words and pictures take equal space in the story.  Graphic novels teach students that the pictures tell the story just as much as the plot, and that the pictures can be clues for the meanings and themes in the novel.  The reactions of the characters, or the pictures that show actions without dialogue, help students make inferences and predictions based on a limited amount of information.  Students can make connections and use the pictures to gain a better understanding of the text.

3.) Graphic novels place a struggling reader on an equal footing with his or her classmates.  I will never forget the day an ESL student corrected me on a detail when I was teaching Greek myths.  Her source?  She had read a graphic novel, and she was so proud that she could participate in the class discussion.  Graphic novels give struggling readers an opportunity to read a book or a series that is popular with the rest of the class.  It allows them to be part of a group discussion or debate because they have an easier access point to the information.

Articles that talk more about using graphic novels in the classroom can be read at The Book Whisperer’s website and at the American Libraries Magazine website.  As well, if you know of any good graphic novels for adolescent readers, please let me know.

My book a day challenge is almost complete:

August 11th: Inkspell, by Cornelia Funke

August 12th – 19th: A Pooh and Piglet Book Series, #1-8, by A.A. Milne

August 20th: Winnie-the-Pooh on Success, by Roger E. Allen and Stephen D. Allen

August 21st: George’s Marvellous Medicine, by Roald Dahl

August 22nd: The Magic Finger, by Roald Dahl

August 23rd: The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, by Roald Dahl

August 24th: The Dragonslayer (Bone, #4), by Jeff Smith

August 25th: The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd

August 26th: Naomi’s Road, by Joy Kogawa

August 27th: The Myth of Ability, by John Meighton

August 28th: Horrible Histories: The Awesome Egyptians, by Terry Deary and Peter Hepplewhite

August 29th: Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson, by Judy Blume

August 30th: Days of Toil and Tears: The Child Labour Diary of Flora Rutherford, by Sarah Ellis

Bright Lights, Spelling City


I occasionally assign spelling and vocabulary activities, and try to find ways that students can study the words that do not involve dry memorization of their pre-test pages.  I found a website that seems to help students practice their words in a fun way.  Spelling City starts with a page where anyone can type in words in groups of five, ten, or as a batch entry.  Students can then decide to take a spelling practice test, listen to the words being spelled, or complete a variety of vocabulary and spelling games based on these words.  I have recommended this website for a practice activity while students are studying at home, as well as using a couple of the games in the classroom as a quick practice in between lessons or in the fifteen minutes before the scheduled afternoon assembly.  I like how the spelling test reads out the words and sentences to give a better understanding of the word’s meaning, and my students have enjoyed working together to play “Hangmouse”.  I would say that this website is mostly for Grade 2 to Grade 6, and I tend to use it as a whole classroom activity when I teach Grade 6 and as a supplementary resource for individual students in Grade 7. I use this website for free, but you can also register and pay a fee to use this in the classroom for all of the students.  This will allow students to play more of the games, and they will also have any of the activities they complete directly Emailed to the teacher for assessment.  I am frustrated that it seems some of the games and practices I used to be able to access for free are now only available through the registration, but I will continue to use Spelling City games in the classroom for as long as I am able.

And the reading list grows longer:

July 30th: Birdland, by Tracy Mack

July 31st: The Breadwinner, by Deborah Ellis

August 1st: Report to the Principal’s Office, by Jerry Spinelli

August 2nd: Blabber Mouth, by Morris Gleitzman

August 3rd: Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine

August 4th: Web 2.0 How-To For Educators, by Gwen Solomon and Lynne Schrum

August 5th: Haunted Teachers: True Ghost Stories, by Allan Zullo

August 6th: The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson levine

August 7th: A Child in Prison Camp, by Shizuye Takashima

August 8th: Emily Carr: An Introduction to her Life and Art, by Anne Newlands

August 9th: The Wright 3, by Blue Balliett

August 10th: Astronomy: Out of this World, by Basher (Illustrator) and Dan Green

Complex Texts at Odds with Technology?


This week I randomly picked up an Educational Leadership magazine with the headline “Teaching Screenagers” so I could quickly pick up a few technology ideas to think over.  One article that discussed reading complex texts and technology particularly caught my eye.  The title of this article is “Too Dumb for Complex Texts?”, and it explores whether this technological age has resulted in students who do not have the capacity or the willingness to comprehend complex texts that are presented to them in university.

The article initially intrigued me because I had been reading so much about how technology is the wave of the future, and I was starting to feel like if I did not grasp onto this new medium for my classroom fairly quickly it would leave me behind.  I do agree with a few of the points mentioned in the article.  For example, the author states that electronic communications require a quick response, which is the antithesis to the slow, receptive reading that is necessary for complex writing.  Students brought up in the Internet age become active contributors to ideas, because a quick comment on a blog post is often all that is required to become embroiled in an ideological debate.  However, this doesn’t work for slow reading, where the reader must take in the entirety of the writing through laboured and conscious thought, and be able to summarize the ideas as well as give his initial opinion.  Based on what I’ve seen online, I could say that this analysis is true.  I’ve often felt that the Internet fosters a certain quickness, and if you do not comment immediately on an idea you will be left behind.  Also, when I read this article a second time I read it online, and I found myself more likely to use the page down button to scan for main ideas rather than look at each sentence.  That may have been only because I was re-reading something that I had already gathered information on, but it does pose an interesting question about whether the Internet naturally leads us to scan and not think deeply when looking at printed documents.

However, I also don’t think that technology is completely to blame in this issue. If I remember my own university experience properly, there has often been a struggle for first-year students to understand complex texts, and doing well in secondary school only to then do poorly in university is not a new phenomenon.  Instead of believing that technology and complex texts are equals in terms of literacy, perhaps technology should play a supporting role in understanding difficult writing.  Literacy strategies, verbal discussion, Socratic seminars, and other good parts of our teacher training should also be presented to the students.  Don’t let all assignments take the form of blog posts and videos, but also don’t naturally assume that banning Internet research for a project will yield more methodical readers.  As in many parts of education, there needs to be a balance.  Students already have so much technology in their lives, it must be brought into the classroom or teaching methods will become antiquated.  I do believe that if we set aside time to break down complex writing for students to understand, while at the same time utilizing technology to support and clarify their understanding, we will end up with better readers in general.

The book-a-day- challenge continues:

July 23rd: A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park

July 24th: Teaching and Learning Outside the Box: Inspiring Imagination Across the Curriculum, by Kieran Egan et. al.

July 25th: Parvana’s Journey, by Deborah Ellis

July 26th: Mud City, by Deborah Ellis

July 27th: An Imaginative Approach to Teaching, by Kieran Egan

July 28th: Looking for X, by Deborah Ellis

July 29th: Eggs, by Jerry Spinelli

Teaching with the Newspaper


I sometimes spend so much time searching or thinking about the perfect book that will help the students practice their reading strategies, that I forget about the newspaper.  However, having the students look through their local paper, or gathering current articles for them to read, can also have some real benefits.  An article can be used or adapted for several different subjects.  Having short articles to discuss rather than long pages of dialogue will appeal to those struggling readers.  Looking at comic strips and political cartoons requires a certain level of critical thinking.  Even examining the pictures that accompany the articles provide the students with a chance to determine what is happening in the picture and create inferences.  Finally, it gives students an opportunity to look at a piece of non-fiction that they are almost guaranteed to continue reading in their adult lives.  The website Education World has an article that provides more justification for using newspapers in the classroom and gives several ideas for lesson planning.

In other news, I have met the criteria for my book a day challenge so far, and I have put the continuing list here.  A quick review of each book can be seen on my summer book challenge page.

July 5th: Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto

July 6th: Trailing Clouds of Glory, poems by William Wordsworth

July 7th: The Future of the Earth: An Introduction to Sustainable Development for Young Readers, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

July 8th: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

July 9th: DK Eyewitness Books: Shakespeare, by Peter Chrisp

July 10th: Earth from Above for Young Readers, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

July 11th: Ever, by Gail Carson Levine

July 12th: Shattered, by Eric Walters

July 13th: White Jade Tiger, by Julie Lawson

July 14th: North by Night, by Katherine Ayres

July 15th: Broken Song, by Kathryn Lasky